The DVD Forums Top 100 Films 2007 Part 07: 40-31

Sooo... Serenity... Placed higher than 2001: A Space Odyssey and Planet of the Apes? Well I guess that would give Joss Whedon a chuckle! The Serenity bombshell aside, titles are starting get more recognisable and predictable in the Top100, although Life of Brian only managing to squeeze under the 50 mark is quite the surprise.

This Is Spinal Tap (1984, Rob Reiner)
"You're so sweet but you're just four feet and you've still got your baby teeth! / You're too young and I'm too well-hung...but tonight we're gonna rock it!" When British heavy metal crossed the Atlantic, it took with it skintight denim, Marshall amps and songs that mixed the orgs'n'goblins of Tolkien with paeans to having sex with underage girls. Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest and Saxon all said farewell to Macclesfield, Birmingham and Middlesborough and set off for New York, California and the miles of freeway in between. The bright blue waters of the Pacific beckoned, as did beautiful American girls, and there was a new album to promote. Too bad they had a habit of getting lost backstage. "Hello Cleveland!"

For years, British rock bands have argued over which of them inspired Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean to create Spinal Tap, a note-perfect pastiche of a fading heavy metal band touring the US in support of Smell The Glove, an album that has them accused of sexism - "What's wrong with being sexy?" - of playing half-empty arenas and of two dwarves dancing about a 18" high model of Stonehenge due to a misunderstanding over feet and inches. Fan and filmmaker Marti di Bergi accompanies Spinal Tap on their tour of the US and to record the experience in a documentary. "...or, if you will, rockumentary." There are break-ups, petty jealousies and an unfortunate habit of losing drummers by somewhat unique means. Nigel Tufnell shows off both the power of his Marshall amps - "But these ones go up to 11!" - and his somewhat tender side, playing a beautiful piano piece in the key of D-minor, the saddest of all the keys. "What do you call this?" "Er...Lick My Love Pump!" So perfect a spoof of the British heavy metal experience that bands are still arguing over who was the inspiration for it. "Rock'n'roll!" – Eamonn McCusker

R1 SE DVD Review (Andy Hall) | R2 SE DVD Review (Raphael Pour-Hashemi)

12 Angry Men (1957, Sidney Lumet)
Twelve men. One room. In a sweltering hot New York City courthouse, a dozen ordinary men must decide whether a teenager lives or dies. Sidney Lumet's astonishing directorial debut exposes the fears, prejudices and overall frailties of the human condition in riveting fashion. With Hollywood's signature everyman Henry Fonda serving as the conscience of us all, the remaining eleven jurors slowly let down their guard and allow questions of innocence, guilt and circumstance to unravel, often against their will. The film goes deeper than its legal drama surface by confronting our routine suspicions and biases, seemingly unavoidable byproducts of the melting pot. Through five decades and numerous retreads, Lumet's version of 12 Angry Men remains the definitive statement on the flaws and opportunities found within the American jury trial system. It's comforting to see a film of this caliber and with such comparatively humble origins rank so highly here, as well as being a perennially top-rated selection in the IMDb Top 250. – clydefro jones

R2 DVD Review (Alan Daly) | R1 50th Anniversary Edition DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
George Bailey is a failed real-estate businessman in the sleepy town of Bedford Falls who feels that he has let down his family, his friends and his customers, and is about to commit suicide on a snowy Christmas Eve when his hand is stayed by an ineffectual angel called Clarence. Clarence shows George the impact his life has had on those around him and what his absence would mean to them.
With its look at the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future without a George Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life takes its lead from 'A Christmas Carol' and indeed the characters are very much Dickensian caricatures – all either hopeless innocents or pantomime villains. It’s appallingly naïve and sentimental, but there is genuine humanity and compassion in Frank Capra’s vision of the world that is given sincerity and credibility by the engaging presence of James Stewart. The film’s message that we are all special and can make a difference to the lives of others may be a little calculated and manipulative of the emotions, but at Christmas time it’s a message we’d all like to believe is true. – Noel Megahey

Léon (1994, Luc Besson)
After hitting it big internationally with Nikita, Luc Besson decided to return to the world of professional killers for his first film that was set in the United States: Léon. Léon’s reclusive life as the top hitman for a local mob boss is turned upside down when his neighbour’s young daughter: Mathilda knocks on his door after the brutal murder of her family by Stansfield, the head of a corrupt police ring. Taking in Mathilda, Léon finds his life upturned by the increasingly assertive, pubescent girl and it’s not long before he’s persuaded to teach her the arts of his profession – which will soon bring them both into the path of Stansfield and his goons once again.

Besson’s gift as a maker of action thrillers is his ability to create fresh idiosyncratic characters and develop them through inventive character arcs. In Nikita he gave us a criminal junkie who is trained to become a governmental assassin. In Léon he gives us a fidgety, milk guzzling, Italian plant lover who conducts his business in an overcoat, round shades and a small wooly hat. In Mathilda we have a beaten, precocious child/wannabe seductress, and the villainous Stansfield is an extremely entertaining pill-popping psychotic with a penchant for classical music. On characterisation alone, Leon is a very engaging film – more so than your average action flick – but it is with the longer “Version Integralé” edit, which expands the relationship between Leon and Mathilda by developing their bond through a series of both awkward and pitch-black scenarios that the film really becomes something special. – Matt Shingleton

R1 Uncut International Version DVD Review (Steve Wilkinson) | R1 Deluxe Edition DVD Review (Michael Mackenzie) | R2 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski)

Gladiator (2000, Ridley Scott)
It may not be quite the film that Ben Hur is but it's very much better than Troy, King Arthur or Alexander. But for rescuing Ridley Scott from a life of making more films like GI Jane, giving him the opportunity to make the better Kingdom Of Heaven and bestowing on him enough critical standing to make this year's DVD release of Blade Runner, we have much to be thankful to Gladiator for. It opens in fine style in the cold and most northerly parts of the Roman Empire. "Unleash Hell!" is Maximus' (Russell Crowe) call to arms as oil is catapulted over the troops of Germania and underneath a cold, grey sky and the Romans fire lighted arrows set the freezing ground alight.

From the high politics off the fields of Germania, Gladiator takes us to Rome itself, where Maximus, his position in the army ruined by Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) now fights as a gladiator. Vengeance drives both men, Maximus seeking a life in return for Commodus' soldiers taking those of his wife and son. Gladiator trifles with the protection of Rome, of the last days of its empire and of the high ideals of the sport of gladiatorial combat but it's all about the keenness of Scott's eyes to create a Rome that had never been seen before. Birds fly high over the coliseum, the sand is soaked in the blood of the gladiators and Maximus, armed only with sword and shield, fights a tiger. The rickety sets of Up Pompeii! are but a distant memory as Scott's Rome, with his similarities to Albert Speer's visions for Berlin, comes to life on the screen. The story may not be all that but it looks marvellous and was the first step in Hollywood's falling in love with the historical epic once again. – Eamonn McCusker

R1 EE DVD Review (Eamonn McCusker) | R2 DVD Review (James Timothy) | R2 Extended SE DVD Review (Michael Mackenzie)

North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock was one of the wittiest of all directors and North by Northwest is his wittiest film; a delightfully mischievous, convoluted romp through the past thirty years of his career in a film which is so much fun that it doesn't matter one bit that the plot makes no sense at all. Cary Grant plays, well, Cary Grant and wanders through an increasingly bizarre series of events with charm and poise so unruffled that one suspects he was able to iron it. Whether careering drunk along the edge a treacherous cliff, throwing himself down in a field to avoid a murderous crop-duster or gradually slipping down the face of a president, Grant is quite simply the coolest man who has ever existed on the face of the earth. No wonder Eve Marie Saint - a more than acceptable substitute for the matrimonially occupied Grace Kelly - falls in love with him, nor that his mother - the divine Jessie Royce Landis, barely older than Grant - is very cross indeed. James Mason is a villain as smooth as a dry martini and Martin Landau ponces about lethally as one of the nastiest henchmen this side of a Bond movie. In the process of unravelling an unfathomable plot and chasing cross-country through a series of Hitchcock's favourite scenes, Grant manages to save the country while still looking about twenty years younger than any man of 54 should.

Hitchcock is at the height of his powers, fluffing up a confection which has enough bitterness to avoid being overly cute. Kudos to his traditional team of craftsmen, among whom Bernard Herrmann deserves to be singled out for his stunning music score. The script by Ernest Lehman contains some fabulous one-liners - mother's naive question "You men aren't really trying to kill my son are you?" is my favourite - and is structured so brilliantly that the narrative coheres without ever stopping for long enough to make us think about the unlikely coincidences. Although Hitchcock made better, deeper films, he didn't make any which were more sheerly entertaining and this is by far his funniest film. – Mike Sutton

R1 DVD Review (Michael Brooke) | R2 DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, Sergio Leone)
Aaah-eee-aaah-eee-aaah, wah-wah-waah!! Yes it’s THAT score. Ennio Morricone’s most recognisable musical moment, just one sample from his masterpiece score for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. It is arguably the most famous score to ever accompany a Western, and almost certainly one of the most whistled theme tunes in history. But The Good, the Bad and the Ugly has much more going to it than a fantastic soundtrack, it is one of the most awesome, epic Westerns of all time and a highlight in the incomparable career of Sergio Leone. The story is simple: Somewhere in the deep south of America a fortune in Confederate gold is buried, and the paths of three very different men are intertwined as they search for it, but what plays out is anything but simple, as Leone paints a sprawling canvas of treasure hunting, double crossing, revenge seeking, bittersweet reunions, reluctant friendships, and shifting allegiances, while the madness and cruelty of the latter days of the American Civil War plays out.

Indeed, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly isn’t just an excellent Western, it’s a unique war film that is meticulously crafted by Sergio Leone at the top of his game. Morricone too captures the tone of the drama perfectly and fills the film with beautiful, sometimes ironic, compositions – and when the Ecstasy of Gold sequence kicks in with Leone’s exquisite direction, it’s one of the most breathtaking moments in cinema. Leone made three unquestionable masterpieces in his lifetime, this was the first of them and it perhaps remains his greatest achievement as director. If you are a fan of cinema, you simply must appreciate filmmaking of this standard. – Matt Shingleton

R1 DVD Review (Reko Nokkanen)

Raging Bull (1980, Martin Scorsese)
Jake LaMotta: The Bronx Bull, one of the fiercest brawlers to ever step into the ring. Martin Scorsese's biopic, covering LaMotta's life from promising young fighter to boxing champion, to eventual decline and post-boxing stint as an overweight stand up comic, is one of the greatest biopics in the history of cinema – and it's without a shadow of a doubt the greatest boxing film of all time.

Infamously taking method acting to new extremes, Robert De Niro puts in one of the greatest performances of his career as LaMotta, a brutish man whose insecurities and hard-headedness makes life hell for the people closest to him. LaMotta takes all the pent up rage and paranoia into the ring with him and pummels his unsuspecting opponents into submission. Scorsese unflinchingly depicts every harsh aspect of LaMotta's personality, and in doing so gives this character piece a depth and realism that few dramas can match. His handling of the boxing sequences is equally brilliant. Taking a single camera into the ring to film the fighters from their perspectives, Scorsese emphasises all the elements of the boxing arena: The smoke, the flash of cameras, the heat waves, the sweat, the blood, and the added cries of wild animals express the primal nature of the sport. There is no glorification in Raging Bull; this is boxing in its purest form. – Matt Shingleton

R1 DVD Review (Gary Couzens) | R1 25th Anniversary SE DVD Review (Mike Sutton)

Withnail & I (1987, Bruce Robinson)
Simply put, Withnail & I is just a terrific script with brilliant acting and a fine score. Being honest and critical, its direction is weak, its set-ups, lighting, and momentum show the heavy hand of a debutant director, and its reputation as being more of a pub game for students than a classic comedy hardly endears it to new viewers. Still whenever I go back to it, I find myself lost in terrific lines and excellent performances, and I become puzzled that our film industry has used Bruce Robinson so poorly since. It is not a film born of gags and slapstick, but it is chock full of character driven wit and intriguing people instead. First amongst its grotesques, wasters and failures is Richard E Grant, and he is mesmerising as the cowardly and charismatic bum, Withnail, and his final soliloquy is as touching a speech as you will ever hear an actor emote. Withnail & I will still appeal to bright young things new to the party as it captures the sense of the end of an era, and specifically it deals with that time when we all must put away childish things as Marwood does in the film's conclusion. No British film since has made me laugh so deeply, and few ever have been so superbly written, and if you can let the script stand on its own then you will find many gems of humour and humanity awaiting your next viewing. – John White

R0US DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 DVD Review (Colin Polonowski)

Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet)
Jean-Pierre Jeunet was already widely considered a true visionary by the time he went to Hollywood and toned down his usual style to direct the rather unsatisfying Alien: Resurrection, but when he returned to French cinema a few years later with Amelie, he showed the world that he had lost none of his trademark flair. In Amelie he tells the story of Amelie Poulain, a kind sensitive young woman whose eccentric upbringing and vivid imagination has led to a somewhat solitary adult life. One day she discovers a rusty old tin hidden in the wall of her bathroom, containing the old toys and hoardings of a young boy who grew up in the apartment years ago. With the help of some of her neighbours she manages to find out the identity of this boy – who is now a middle aged man - and she anonymously returns it to him. The man is deeply touched by the childhood reminder, and Amelie is encouraged enough to decide she will become a serial do-gooder, covertly changing the lives of the people around her; which in turn inspires self-reflection and inner change.

Amelie is one of those rare films where every single element of the production is in perfect symbiosis. Jeunet’s playful direction is brimming with Gallic wit and kooky invention, weaving these wonderfully fey life stories that are full of triumphs and tragedies for every little character Amelie interacts with. The film also looks and sounds gorgeous thanks to Bruno Delbonnel’s colourful, picturesque cinematography and Yann Tiersen’s haunting, melodic score, and of course there is the abundant charm of Audrey Tautou, an elfin goddess if ever there was one. Jeunet has yet to top Amelie; it’s a beautifully made film and an utterly enchanting experience. – Matt Shingleton

Cinema Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 DVD Review (Alexander Larman) | R2 SE DVD Review (Dave Foster) | R2Fr DVD Review (Mark Boydell)

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